About the Faces on the Cutting Room Floor Number Eight: Authenticity, Site Surveys, and Blind Serendipity

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I have been asked a number of times how much research I did in order to invoke the sense of place that often pervades 1635: The Papal Stakes. The answer is, “Lots.” And there are two parts to that answer.

The first part is the frank admission that strong reliance upon good libraries, wary utilization of Wikipedia, and—above all—deep forays via Google Earth were indispensable in acquiring a good sense of the land and architecture of the various locales depicted in Papal Stakes. That being said, those sources often came close to leading me into error, as well. For instance: there is a scene early in the book where Estuban Miro is leading the Wrecking Crew over the alps in a dirigible and they come across a “duck pond” called the Marmelsee.  Harry Lefferts is surprised that it is not a larger expanse of waters, given how vast it looked on their Fodors maps. Well, in the E-arc, I believe you’ll find that it is shown to be just that large—because the small duck pond was turned into a vast alpine lake by a damming project in (I believe) the early twentieth century. But that was not flagged in any of the references I had and was, I believe, pointed out by a reader familiar with the region’s history. Google Earth doesn’t lie, but we do occasionally change the planet (and sometimes it changes all by itself, as I learned when trying to locate the seventeenth-century shoreline of Louisiana versus the modern one as I commenced writing 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies).

The second part of the answer is that I have actually visited a number of key sites in Papal Stakes. Certainly Rome, but more especially Mallorca, where, over the years, I’ve probably spent a cumulative total of about four months. During some of my final visits there, I was fortunately under contract for Papal Stakes and so had the opportunity to go armed with a camera and conduct what, in the film business, we call “site surveys.” What I found, and its value to enriching the narrative, are for you to judge. However, not all of these photos were snapped by your humble narrator, and for every one that you see here, there were twenty passed over for one reason or another.

So to end this series on the same cinematic theme with which we began –”faces on the cutting room floor”—here are some of the site survey (and other helpful graphics) that went into the making and visualizations of 1635: The Papal Stakes.

01 Monte Cristo resized

#1 The Island of Monte Cristo. This is the view entering the bay into which Miro and Harry Lefferts led the pirate xebec beneath the ambushing guns of North’s Hibernians and then the boarders under Owen Roe O’Neill’s Wild Geese. You will note the scrub cover, the crags that provide stony foxholes and the murderous downward angle of fire and commanding view of the battlespace. A narrow inlet any other day, at that point in the book, it was nothing less than a kill zone.

02 Bay of Canyamel

#2  The Bay of Canyamel. The view here is from the crest of the Cap des Pins looking across the bay at Cap Vermell. If you look closely, you will see a triangle of shadow approximately one third of the way in from the extreme right hand of the image, set in the face of the stony spur of land and relatively close to the water. This is the entrance to the Caves of Arta, known as a pirate lair since Roman times and a tourist attraction today. But trust me, a firefight in there would be not merely a gothic horror show, but deafening. This was, of course, the site of the second attack Miro’s band made upon pirates, grabbing another hull (a llaut, a Balearic boat still used today) and much-needed supplies with which to begin their covert stay upon Mallorca.

03 Palma map

#3 A period map of Palma de Mallorca, first city of the entire Balearic Island chain. Although the map was drafted approximately one hundred years after the events in Papal Stakes, it is inspired by the layout of the city as it was in 1644 (hence the strangely anachronistic mix of ship types). Even as an “epochal fusion” map, it still offers an excellent sense of the layout and scope of this picturesque and strategically important provincial capitol. Long a point of contact between Moors and Spanish, as well as Carthaginians and Romans, trade and piracy are integral parts of the island’s heritage. The Castell de Bellver, the site of Frank and Giovanna Stone’s final imprisonment and one of the two pitched, final battles in the novel, is located well to the west/left of the map edge.

04 1895

#4 Convincing description must extend to artifacts as well as architecture. In the case of all the boats depicted, considerable examination of deckplans and accounts (unofficial as well as official) was exhaustive. Weapons and equipment were handled similarly; if you are going to convincingly depict any device, one must have a sense of its physical properties.

In the case of the hallmark weapons of this combat-intensive novel, the signature rifle of the Hibernian Mercenary Battalion was the Winchester Model 1895 lever action in .40-72. A black powder weapon (in 1635), it was an excellent compromise between simplicity of design, portability, rate of fire, and stopping power (it was used with reasonable success as a big game rifle). Nowhere near as affordable or easy to manufacture as the standard shoulder arms of the USE, having a model of the weapon from which to build copies allowed it to become a practical “special equipage” model for small, elite formations such as the Hibernians.

05 sks

#5 The other shoulder weapon used by some of the elite forces in the second half of The Papal Stakes—an “equalizer” to make up for the heavy losses suffered in Rome—was the Russian SKS. As shown here, most models (like the top one) are loaded via ten-round stripper clips. However, as shown below, certain variants are able to use an AK-47 magazine (it fires the same 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge). However, the SKS arguably enjoys greater accuracy due to superior ergonomic design (my personal experience aligns with this opinion). Remember this gun when we get to the pictures of the lazarette/tower at the Castell de Bellver…


07 Hibernian helmet

#6 and #7 A few more pieces of standard Hibernian Mercenary equipment: the top revolver (shown for comparison with a modern model) is a close approximation of the Hockenjoss & Klott .44 cap and ball pistol, and the “lobstertail” helmet, which offers good protection and excellent field of vision. (Made famous by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads, but it was in broad use on the continent as well.)

08 Castell de Bellver

09 Castell de Bellver

#8 and #9  The Castell de Bellver. A singular architectural wonder and largely held to be impregnable prior to the advent of seventeenth-century artillery, the layout reflected the mathematical metaphysics of Ramon Llull. As is visible in the photo with the Bay of Palma (and city) in the background, it is a tight, circular structure, with one attached outlying tower (the “lazarette,” although this was usually used for visiting dignitaries requiring high security) and a single drawbridge access over an empty moat. The perfect geometric symmetries of the structure are more evident in the other image, as are the outlying revetments that guard the approaches to the fort, and by the seventeenth century, were its primary artillery stations.

10 lazarette

#10 The Lazarette. Accessible only by a very narrow walkway (accessed by single file) suspended high above the moat, this was an extraordinarily defensive position even if only defended from the ground. However, with marksmen on the roof . . .

11 overlook

#11 The approach to the lazarette and its commanding presence. This narrow spire of a tower (with fifteen-foot-wide round rooms and a single tight staircase) was clearly designed to provide a clear field of fire for either musketeers or crossbowmen not only across the broad expanse of the top level of the castell, but also of the opposite galleries and a good part of the arms court. As can be seen from . . .

12 snipers view

#12 The overlook from the top of the lazarette. To coin a phrase, this was obviously designed quite intentionally to provide “a view to a kill.” With marksmen on either side of the stone cupola protecting the roof access point of the lazarette’s staircase, this view, in stereo, provides complete coverage of the entirety of the upper level of the castell, and is designed to enable murderous crossfire concentration upon the approaches to the single-stone bridge linking it to the lazarette. If anyone ever wondered if Harry Lefferts and his Hibernian partner could rip apart two dozen Spanish soldiers with their extended-magazine SKSs (thirty rounds, no waiting) . . . think again.

13 upper level view

#13 View from the upper level. In addition to offering a commanding view of (and artillery trajectory toward) the Bay of Palma to the east, the other points of the compass allowed direct, uncovered fields of fire upon the artillery revetments that were the forts’ outer works.  Another scene of (in this case, implied) carnage from the pages of Papal Stakes.

14 arms court

#14  The interior of Castell de Bellver. Comprised of an “arms court” and two circular vaulted galleries, any conventional intruders would find themselves in one of the world’s most striking crucibles of defensive small arms fire.  The taller upper gallery affords defenders waist-high stone cover in a 360-degree encirclement of the court. Access is by two staircases accessible directly from the lower gallery.

15 lower gallery

15a room

#15 and #15a  The lower gallery. Devoted mostly to the practical, day-to-day needs of the fort, these rooms were somewhat more rude in construction, but also quite sturdy, with heavy door and iron hardware. The site of housing, kitchen, storerooms, and privies, it was the working level of Castell de Bellver. One of the nicer rooms on this level (a commander’s office and marshalling area, apparently) recalls the more refined features and architectural interest (groined vaulting) of the chambers that ring the more airy and bright upper gallery.

16 stairway

#16 The ascending stairway to the upper gallery. Narrow and steep, with stout doors, an upwards assault against well-prepared defenders was sure to be a costly matter. Even with the superior firepower, surprise, speed, and training of the Wild Geese and Hibernians, reaching and breaking out into the second level was a difficult task and ultimately, where the majority of casualties were inflicted upon them.

17 upper gallery

#17 The upper gallery. With taller doorways, more windows, and graceful stonework throughout, the ceiling of the second level soars and also receives some cooling sea breezes scalloping down and in through the circular opening to the roof and the sky beyond. Despite its refinements, the upper gallery is also designed for murderously effective defense against any intruders who might fight through the single, double-portcullised entrance into the arms court. And for any attackers who might (improbably) get this far, access to the roof level was only to be had through three stairways protected within rooms lining the promenade.

18 Fort Carlos

#18 Fort Carlos. Not seen in the narrative per se, but a location of grave concern to the attackers who escaped by boat, Fort Carlos is a bastion of a later age. Built specifically both to house and resist the fire of cannons, it shows the squat, “star fort” walls with raked glacis outer surfaces and wider and more functional interior marshalling areas for mustering troops and repositioning heavy equipment. In the final stages of construction at the time of the novel, it had already become the “serious” harbor defense, with Castell de Bellver being relegated to the equivalent of a second governor’s residence, garrison, and maximum security prison—a role in which it continued for almost another two centuries.

19 Tramontera

#19 The Tramontera. These scrub-covered mountains predominate along the northern fringes of Mallorca, becoming more steep and inhospitable as one progresses from these western slopes to the towering easternmost extent of Formentor.  These are the low peaks between which the rescuers’ dirigible fled at the end of the extraction mission—and which, navigating on a dark night, were objects that posed their own dangers.

20 secret tunnel

21 secret tunnel

22 secret tunnel

#20, #21, #22   The secret tunnel up into Castell de Bellver. These three pictures warrant a story that goes a long way to illustrate how persistence and blind luck can often combine to be an author’s best friend.

As I evolved the story of the rescue of Frank and Giovanna Stone, I saw a variety of ways for the strike team to get into Castell de Bellver, but an exit was less clear. Any number of ruses could have inserted a team within its walls—and indeed, Owen Roe O’Neill and one of his Wild Geese employ one such trick to sneak inside. However, once there, even opening a door for a larger waiting force was problematic: how would so large a force be waiting close enough, undetected, and then not become hopelessly bogged down engaging the troops whose duties and billets were outside the walls in service of the batteries in the artillery revetments? I thought about postulating the existence of a secret tunnel, but, while many such fortifications often had these hidden escape routes, it seemed unfair and just a bit too authorially convenient to invent one.

Except, as it turns out, I didn’t have to.

I visited Castell de Bellver three times. On the last and final occasion, I called ahead and made an appointment with a curator to get a guided tour. We walked nearly every linear foot of the place and I learned many things about it I had not before. However, I was no closer to finding my answer to a reasonable method of mass attack—and certainly, mass escape. On our way to the exit, as we passed by the storeroom immediately to the left of the entrance (from the internal perspective), I noticed that it had a light barricade in front of it, proclaiming it temporarily closed to visitors. What was going on there, I asked.

“Oh, that’s where we found a hidden tunnel,” exclaimed my guide. Stunned, I asked if I could see what they had unearthed.

Buried beneath two courses of stone flooring, what you see in the first picture is the claustrophobic descending cleft, from the perspective of someone about to head down into it. The other two images are taken from the side of the aperture and show the staircase, which was fashioned from stone risers laid across grooves cut into stepped ramps carved from the limestone that predominates beneath the fort’s foundations.

At the time of my last visit, the history of the tunnel was still a mystery. It had been explored enough to determine that it connected with subterranean galleries from which much of the finer-grained stone of the castell itself had been quarried. However, time and water had eroded some of the limestone chambers and passages and it was unclear when (or even if) the other end of the tunnel would ever be found. However, given its unswerving eastward course and steady if gentle declination, all conjectures pointed to an egress point well down the slope and probably halfway to the shore: a logical escape route for a party of besieged personages of high station. Which is just how the passage is depicted in Papal Stakes.

So, truly, the third time was the charm in my three visits to Castell de Bellver—and if you find yourself in Mallorca, I urge you to take a tour and explore this piece of living history yourself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes, and among the faces on the cutting room floor, that went into the making of 1635: The Papal Stakes. Although science fiction, and more specifically alternate history, I hope this imparts some of the effort and diligence with which authors in the series pursue authenticity and factual details of locales, organizations, objects, and individuals which were the living (and often breathing) realities of that epoch. We might not get everything right—who could?—but it’s never for lack of trying.

Thanks for coming along for the trip—and for having read 1635: The Papal Stakes.


Art Director’s Note: With the exception of the title banner, all of the images in this article are courtesy of the author, Charles E. Gannon. I tried to stay as close to the author’s original concept of presentation throughout the piece as I could, within the limitations of our software. If the reader wishes to, they can click on any image here in the Gazette’s online version for a larger view.

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One thought on “About the Faces on the Cutting Room Floor Number Eight: Authenticity, Site Surveys, and Blind Serendipity

  1. leegibson

    Very enlightening!! I didn’t visualize how broad the castle’s diameter really is. I have a clearer understanding of Harry leffert’s belaying feat at the start of the rescue. How about an album of real views for some of the other novels in the series? But before you turn Herr Vance loose on that project, please make him finish the chronicle of paleo horsemen.


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